July 10, 1975, release date
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Screenplay by Tracy Keenan Wynn, Lorenzo Semple Jr., Walter Hill
Based on The Drowning Pool by Ross Macdonald
Music by Michael Small
Edited by John C. Howard
Cinematography by Gordon Willis
Paul Newman as Lew Harper
Joanne Woodward as Iris Devereaux
Anthony (“Tony”) Franciosa as Chief Broussard
Murray Hamilton as J. J. Kilbourne
Gail Strickland as Mavis (“May-May”) Kilbourne
Melanie Griffith as Schuyler Devereaux
Linda Haynes as Gretchen, the working girl
Andre Trottier as the hydrotherapist
Richard Jaeckel as Lieutenant Franks
Paul Koslo as Candy, one of Kilbourne’s henchmen
Joe Canutt as Glo, one of Kilbourne’s henchmen
Andrew (“Andy”) Robinson as Pat Reavis
Coral Browne as Olivia Devereaux, the matriarch
Helena Kallianiotes as Elaine Reavis
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Produced by First Artists
The Drowning Pool is a lot of fun to watch for all the reasons that I thought Harper, also starring Paul Newman, was fun. Both are based on Ross Macdonald books that feature Lew Harper, private investigator. It seems obvious—at least to me—that Paul Newman enjoys his work and has a lot of fun doing it. In both of his roles as Lew Harper, he reminds me of Lloyd Nolan in the Michael Shayne roles.
This is the second time that Paul Newman portrayed the character Lew Harper. He portrayed him the first time in the 1966 film Harper. Click here for my blog post about Harper.
The credits appear over the opening sequence of The Drowning Pool, as they did in Harper. In this sequence, Harper gets into his rental car at the New Orleans International Airport. Right away, he has a bit of trouble with the car: He can’t get the seat belt to work and thus get the buzzing—and annoying—alarm to stop. The credits roll as he resolves the problem. He finally gets the buzzing alarm to stop when he disconnects the wires behind the driver’s seat.
Iris Devereaux has hired Lew Harper for some investigative work in New Orleans. They meet on the sly in an antiques store in downtown New Orleans. Her telegram read “Mrs. James Devereaux” according to Harper, and he assumed that she was a stranger, but when he sees her, he realizes that he does know her. They had a week-long affair when she visited Los Angeles, which is where Harper lives and works. Here is their first conversation:
• Lew: “Boy, you look terrific.”
• Iris: “So do you. Except you got a little gray over your ears there.”
• Lew: “It’s the only difference. Everything else works about the same.”
• Iris: “That was six years ago. That really was a voluptuous week, wasn’t it?”
• Lew: “Aside from the good times, you didn’t give away much, did you? Why did you drop us like that? I turned around to wind my watch and turned back and you slipped out of L.A.”
• Iris: [with some regret] “It was time to go home.”
Iris has flown Harper to New Orleans for business, “strictly business,” as she tells him. This first conversation makes no mention of business or any of Iris’s reasons for bringing Harper to New Orleans. She has gotten Harper a room at the Town House Motor Hotel, and he is to call before meeting her at her home.
While Harper gets himself settled into his motel room, Iris’s daughter Schuyler tries to seduce him. She lets herself into the room when she finds his door unlocked. At this point, Harper and viewers are not aware of Schuyler’s relationship to Iris. This scene gives viewers a chance to see the complicated nature of Harper’s business ethics, which were part of his character in Harper. Harper wants nothing to do with Schuyler because he knows she is probably too young for legal consent. When she balks at leaving the room because she is not used to taking no for an answer, however, he is not above slapping her across the face.
The chief of police, Chief Broussard, has Harper picked up by Lieutenant Franks and a couple of officers on trumped-up charges. Someone on the police force must have known that Schuyler had visited Harper at the motel. This incident raises a lot of questions for both Harper and the viewer. Is Schuyler being followed? If it’s Harper who is being followed, how would anyone besides Iris have known of his arrival?
When Harper goes to Iris’s home, she shows him a letter that she received threatening blackmail about her infidelities. She tells Harper that it’s not her husband that she’s afraid of; it’s his mother, Olivia Devereaux. She thinks that the letter came from Pat Reavis, the family chauffeur, whom Iris fired.
Again, as in Harper, The Drowning Pool has a lot of seemingly unrelated threads that are part of the mystery surrounding Iris Devereaux and her family. Jay Hue Kilbourne is an oil man in Louisiana. He also runs illegal dogfighting, a business for which he has a lot of unsavory employees. He wants the Devereaux land because of the oil underneath it, and he wants Harper to convince the Devereaux, especially Olivia Devereaux, to sell. Kilbourne has a lot influence in the town, and he is only too happy to turn it into pressure if it suits his purposes.
The Drowning Pool (1975) is a sequel of sorts for Harper (1966) because it features the same detective in the lead role, and both stories are based on novels by Ross Macdonald. Harper is based on The Moving Target, which was published in 1949, and The Drowning Pool is based on the novel of the same name, published in 1950. I haven’t read the novels, not yet at least, but there are points of continuity that I thought showed the care that everyone felt toward both film projects:
◊ Each film begins with Lew Harper. The credits appear over an opening sequence that allows viewers to learn a bit about Harper and even to identify with him. In Harper, he starts his day in his office-slash-apartment; in The Drowning Pool, he has to figure out how to turn off the buzzing alarm when the seat belt in his car won’t work.
◊ Harper chews gum in both films; he doesn’t smoke.
◊ The seemingly unrelated threads of the plot in both films are all interrelated, which is made apparent when the mysteries are solved.
◊ Each film ends with a freeze frame of Lew Harper.
◊ In both films, Lew Harper has to see the assignment to the very end, even if it means that he won’t be paid and even if he creates more hardship for himself and others.